Crop failure! Famine! Drought! Sick and abused children! The gospel unheard! Faced with such crying needs, the good Christian's heart is moved to share his bounty to bring relief, but how much of what he gives really reaches the ones in need?
This is a critical question that demands public examination and reform among the churches of Christ.
During the late Polish food crisis, a Little Rock church sponsored Polish relief, begging for truckloads of food and other necessities for suffering Polish brethren, and the money poured in from church treasuries and personal contributors. An elder handled the funds, but there was no public accounting. The news leaked that he bought a truckload of soap from his wife, who sold Amway products door to door, to ship abroad! Did the elder pay himself a salary to handle the drive? Who bore the cost of administering the program? How much was raised and how much reached the Polish brethren? No contributor knows.
A Louisiana church which is foremost in fund-raising among the brotherhood, sponsored one particular program several years ago. There was never an answer to the following question: (1) How much given was absorbed in fund raising? (2) How much was absorbed in administrative costs? (3) What per cent of every dollar actually reached those for whom it was intended? (4) Did the sponsoring church bear any of the administrative costs? (5) Was there an outside audit?
By chance an accounting of this enterprise, never intended for publication, fell into the hands of a contributor. He was astonished to find that the fund raisers traveled by first-class air, stayed at expensive hotels he never dreamed of entering, ate expensive meals, and hired costly autos to cover particular areas for fund-raising, and drawing salaries out of the funds raised. It appeared that over 50 cents of every dollar raised went to pay just for fund-raising!
This writer, who spent many years in Christian colleges, had a soft spot for a struggling Christian college in western Canada and made modest contributions annually to it. Once he lost the exact address of the college, but he received literature from a preacher who advertised widely that he raised funds for the college and tax exemption was assured for those who would like to help a needed institution outside the United States. I sealed my check in a stamped envelope and addressed the college as far as I could and mailed this letter to him, asking that he complete the address and forward it. When my check cleared, I found that he had removed my check and deposited it to his personal account! When I challenged him, he claimed he sent the money on to the college in his name in order to save me tax money! Since I was contributing through a family managed tax exempt foundation, I did not need his help. Nor was there ever any acknowledgement of the gift by the college.
Once this writer wished to increase the income of a missionary in the Far East since I knew his income was too low. Consequently I wrote him a letter, enclosed my check, but lacking his Manila address, I gave my letter to a sponsoring church elder and asked him to have the letter forwarded. The cleared check showed that the letter had been opened and the money deposited to that church and obviously my letter to the missionary destroyed. When I questioned what was done, I was told that this missionary's salary was none of my business.
This writer manages two small tax-exempt private foundations whose income is devoted to promoting the gospel. After years of experience he finds that giving wisely and efficiently is an extremely difficult and burdensome responsibility. He knows of only one program among the churches of Christ that has an annual outside audit and supplies a full report to every contributor.
The Apostle Paul sponsored a fund raising campaign among the Gentile churches for the needy Christian Jews of Jerusalem, but he never took a penny of it for himself. Nor did he ask the members to trust him with their money. Rather he asked them to pool their gifts and send representatives with him to see that their gifts were properly handled. Paul's insistence on openness and direct involvement sets the pattern for reform today.
A sponsoring church, which is an American invention, has no business in this role unless it is prepared to assume the administrative costs and can freely assure every contributor that 90 cents of every dollar reaches the front line of relief or aid. An annual outside audit ought to be the universal practice of every church and certainly every sponsoring church or group. Personally this writer resents listening to a fund-raiser who is being paid $50,000 a year, plus all costs when away from home, to coax money out of my pocket, particularly since one suspects that part of what he gives will go into that fat salary.
It is not enough to say we ought to trust daring men who devote themselves to such worthy causes. Trust should flow from the facts. The average member of a congregation is denied the simple facts of his own church's funding. He can only guess at the salary of his full-time clergyman and not an inkling of the side benefits. Elders in general hold that such things are of no concern to the pew sitters. Elders in many churches took money given for other purposes and forwarded it to the defense of the Collinsville elders who grossly mistreated a former woman member, and the members never knew it. It is high time that our lecture series and big seminars come to grips with the other half of the giving picture--the spending of what is given. An increasing number of members are now making their giving direct and personal because of the present condition. On the other hand, group giving would enormously increase if the simple reforms, commonly practiced in the secular world like audits, cost analysis, and fiscal reports were commonly followed. It is not enough to drop a bill into a collection plate and hope.